Picking someone on sentiment is a highly questionable action at the best of times, even more so in professional sport. So for me, Allister Coetzee’s decision to start Peter Grant, because it’s his 100th Super Rugby game, ahead of Kurt Coleman on Saturday against the Force is the wrong call.
And it’s the wrong call in so many ways. The argument put forward by Coetzee yesterday (and which has probably been conveyed to Coleman, who as the coach said “understands the sentiment”) was that Grant has served the Stormers and WP rugby well over the years and that it was done out of “pure respect” for the 29-year-old, so that he can run out in front and start the game instead of coming on as a substitute.
Well, if that is the way rugby teams are picked these days, then bring back Naas Botha.
Grant is an extremely friendly person, almost to a fault. He is engaging and always ready for a chat, and just possesses common decency – a trait that many South African sports stars would do well to emulate.
But that doesn’t mean that he should be picked ahead of someone else if he is not the better player. And at the moment, Kurt Coleman is the better flyhalf between the two. Grant has been one of the mainstays of the Stormers side during the Allister Coetzee era, winning many games with accurate goal-kicking, ruthless defence and sound distribution and tactical awareness.
In 2014, though, Grant has been far from the man who used to nail touchline conversions and then coolly jog slowly back to his mark. He cited a lack of gametime in Japan and injuries as the reason for his struggles with form, and he was given an opportunity to re-establish himself in the side.
But it just didn’t happen for him, and while it took Coetzee until his team were out of the playoffs, the coach did eventually hand Coleman the No 10 jersey against the Highlanders.
And the promise the 24-year-old has shown has brought new energy to the Stormers’ attack, which is even more important now that they are embarking on a more positive gameplan where they want to keep ball-in-hand more often.
Yes, they are out of the competition and are bottom of the log, but Coleman would be able to build his confidence as the first-choice flyhalf by continuing to start games for the rest of the season, and he could take that into the Currie Cup as well later in the year.
And the Stormers wouldn’t want to lose any more games, especially at Newlands. Less than 20 000 people attended the last home match against the Highlanders, and it will be interesting to see how many spectators pitch up to watch the Force against a depleted Stormers side on Saturday.
That affects the financial bottom-line, as it then limits the ability of director of rugby Gert Smal and chief executive Rob Wagner to sign much-needed top-class talent from outside.
That is what professional rugby is about in the modern era, and we all know that the Stormers need reinforcements in certain positions.
Surely Grant cannot feel good about being a sentimental pick? He is one of the real nice guys at the Stormers. But Coleman should be starting, not on the bench.